Thursday, July 24, 2014

My New Version Of The Food Pyramid

I've been a busy bee this month with a few of my articles and quotes coming out to print this month. Here's part of my contribution to the Food Pyramid article Fitness First Magazine ran this month, with my mug shot at the bottom. Thanks to the author Honor Termain who did a wonderful job compiling all the expert thoughts in to one fancy looking pyramid! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Great Fat Debate Coconut Oil VS Olive Oil

Nothing interests me more than a nutrition debate and there has been a great fat one looming for a while. You know exactly what I am talking about the whole coconut oil VS olive oil debate and this social push by loud foodie activists.  

I am sick to death of people touting they ‘know’ of the mired of health benefits coconut oil has and how they have seen the light. On numerous occasions individuals have told me they pour coconut oil into their milk shakes as part of their ‘clean eating’ regime.

I try to remain unmoved by these comments, whereas in the past it used to really grind my gears. A majority of the time, I find people read too many health websites that contain articles from those under qualified foodies, who interpret scientific papers incorrectly. A lot of the time the so-called ‘science’ is mixed in with claims made by marketers of coconut oil brands. These healthy claims are made illegally, and have not been backed by science yet.

Yes it is illegal to make health claims about food in Australia, especially unsubstantiated ones!

I decided to put this topic to the test for my readers, to get into the nitty gritty of the science and pull up the original papers so you can conclude for yourself which one is best.

The pro coconut oil foodies have two points of contention in their argument for the use of coconut oil. Primarily that about the way the type of saturated fat in coconut oil works in the body, and the smoking point of coconut oil. This is supposedly makes it better for cooking and less carcinogenic and there are of course the miracle health claims touting it cures Alzheimer’s and obesity.

Coconut oil is a saturated fat high in the Lauric acid type. It also has small amounts of medium chain (8 and 10 carbon chain) of saturated fats. It is now known that medium chain fats can be more readily used in the body as fuel, unlike other fats.

It’s this small fact that everyone banks off coconut oils ability to burn fat and cure disease. One really small technical point I would like to debunk here in relation to coconut oils fat burning capabilities. Just because the medium chain fats can be broken down easily doesn’t make it fat burning, you will not magically burn more.

Thermodynamics tell us that in order to burn fat you have to burn energy, which means you have to exercise or move more. Even though medium chain fats bring you more energy quickly, you still have to burn it off!

The randomised control trial studies on coconut oil have shown either no change to cholesterol or an increase in HDL good cholesterol.

But before you go touting this new fact to your friends pause for a second because it comes with a catch…

Digging deeper into the research, there has actually been a study that tested the functionality of HDL produced by coconut oil and Lauric acid. It’s great to have good blood work, however if things aren’t working as it should what’s the point?

Although the saturated fat in coconut oil increased HDL levels resulting in higher total cholesterol due to higher levels of good cholesterol, the cholesterol did not function as an anti-inflammatory as it normally would.

If HDL was increased by a polyunsaturated fat it kept its anti-inflammatory properties and vasodilate blood vessels. Below is the studies conclusion; this study actually used coconut oil as its saturated fat meal.

Here’s another study that was done in Brazil that supplemented 30ml of either coconut oil or soybean oil to obese women. No change was observed in cholesterol in either group. In the coconut oil group the women reduced their waist circumference. However at the same time increase insulin resistance markers, commonly known as a stepping-stone towards pre diabetes.

As you can see there are a few side effects of coconut oil that is yet to be explained. Non-functional HDL increase and peripheral insulin resistance might be a good enough reason to hold back on it use.

Now here’s an example were supplementation of coconut oil compared to olive oil did help to reduce body fat better.  However no side effect health markers were measured except for change in body fat. Who knows what else was going on internally at the same time?

Another study also found coconut oil beneficial to weight loss, however not any better than olive oil.  Supplementation coconut oil or olive oil in a weight loss plan had the same effects.

By the way the saturated fat = heart disease message does have scientific merit that we can’t turn a blind eye to either. In Costa Rica they found that when people increased their saturated fat intake by 1%, and yes Lauric acid was included in this. Risk of myocardial infarction i.e heart attacks also increased. 

In another study that looked at the diets of 80082 women found that higher consumption of saturated fat increased the risk of developing heart disease. They also concluded that

In other words, they don’t think there is much of a difference between saturated fat types and it’s ability to increase the risk of heart disease. 

It’s not looking good for coconut oil just yet…

The next argument I have also heard people use is that coconut oil is healthy because it’s used in many tropical cultures. They make the assumption that these cultures have healthy lifestyles and live the longest. Making observations like this can be very dangerous, because perceptions are not always true.

For starters I have seen many comments by those with tropical cultural backgrounds on this topic, they do no drink pure coconut milk or oil. They use it in moderate amounts in cooking only. They eat the whole coconut with the flesh mostly or drink the coconut water. Correct me if I am wrong if you are from a tropical heritage.

What does the science say?

Well observations from the typical Sri Lankan diet who use large amounts of coconut oil in cooking have shown this cultural group to have higher deaths per 100,000 due to cardio and cerebrovascular diseases, in other words heart attacks and strokes.

The problem with us westerners and diets is that we always do everything in extremes. We take a slightly good message from one particular culture and blow it out of the water.  We add it to our own poor highly processed western diet.

I have said this before we don’t eat food with single nutrients we eat them in combination. Pulling out coconut oil from a traditional diet that’s high in other fibrous foods like beans, legume, taro and plants. Then we add it to our western diet of potato’s, bread, and noodles or worse yet junk food, this is not going to work in the same way.

Is coconut oil a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?

This idea came from Dr Mary Newport is a neonatal physician who used coconut oil in her practice to feed newborn babies. On a hunch Dr Newport used coconut oil as a treatment method for her husband who had Alzheimer's disease. From her observations of her husband’s condition, she noticed he had no further disease progression. His Alzheimer’s disease was not cured, but slowed. He still had Alzheimer’s disease.

Note the above articles are only self-published articles, they have not been published in peer-reviewed journals. In the science community is type of reference has no weighting. It’s only one person’s theory, and theories are not fact there merely hypothetical ideas.

Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be the 3rd type of diabetes, it is theorised that a lifetime of eating a high carbohydrate diet, insulin resistance develops in the brain causing poor uptake of glucose. As glucose is the sole source of fuel for the brain the brain is starved because of lack of food. MC (medium chain) fats is thought to be an alternative fuel source for the brain in the form of ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are the only other compound like glucose that can pass through the blood brain barrier and feed the bran.

MC fats can be broken down by the liver and make ketone bodies to fulfil this role. Again this is just a theory, none of this has been proven yet. It should not negate any other forms of treatment a Dr prescribes for Alzheimer’s.

The medical community does not support this idea, where as other natural therapy practitioners claim coconut oil is now a cure. As Alzheimer's disease is a complicated process of decline involving deterioration of many neurotransmitters in the brain. I think if coconut oil where to do anything it wouldn’t be much. Maybe as an adjunct treatment with other treatments? 

But who knows, now I’m only guessing…

Like most things in this world when it comes to diet, because it works on one person doesn’t mean it’s true for all people. An n=1 (persons studied is one) observational study is certainly not scientific evidence of anything. Although the theory may have some merit to start investigating, we cannot call it a miracle cure just yet. Side effects to coconut oil are still under investigation.

For example what’s the point of slowing Alzheimer’s with coconut oil if we end up giving people heart disease and they die of a heart attack?

Clinical trials to investigate the claims of coconut oil and Alzheimer’s disease have just begun in America Florida, if you’re interested in joining the study click on this link. Until studies like this have been fully investigated we cannot make any knowledgeable claim on coconut oil and Alzheimer’s disease.

Now I hate blasting foods and calling them evil, because no food is evil I believe everything has its place. If you want to use coconut oil that’s fine, choose extra virgin coconut oil, which involves less processing. Refined coconut oil is often dried coconut oil that’s had further processing often using chemicals, bleaching and its partially hydrogenated. 

Studies have also shown that once coconut oil is refined and processed with heat and chemicals, it loses important properties. This loss includes a variety of protective phytonutrients, such as phenolic acids.  

Is olive oil better or worse?

Olive oil has been studied for many years and the research has shown time and time again it’s a safe oil to use. I have made several blog posts about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet in the past, and there any many styles of this diet originating from Greece, Italy and Spain. One of the common denominators in this diet is olive oil.

Now the type of fat found in olive oil is monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which is also found in soybeans, nuts, seeds and avocado. Extra virgin olive oil is also very high in polyphenols and antioxidants like carotenoids. It has also been found to very high in anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal. This compound works similarly to the commonly known pain killer drug called ibuprofen.

There are many studies that have shown olive oil aids in weight loss, heart disease and yes even Alzheimer’s disease.  A few examples can be found here:

Notice as we go through that most of the olive oil studies are big randomised controlled meta- analysis studies and pooled observational studies using large population numbers. These types of method pools thousands of published study results into one big mega study. The results are the results of thousands of independent studies, they are considered higher ranking in the standards of studies produced in research and science. 

Unlike our coconut oil studies, which were singular randomised control trials, with small number of study participants. These types of study results can only be taken at face value. It is not a strong study design and cannot determine a cause and effect relationship.

Now one urban legend that I have had a run in with one eloquent personal trainer on my Facebook wall is the idea that people shouldn’t “ get any of the shit yellow processed olive oil you buy in the stores”… SIGH really?

These are not words of wisdom so don’t pay attention.

I mean if you extracting oil out of black and green olives, what colour do you expect do you expect oil it to be? Most oils, butter, coconut oil, canola oil and human fat are all yellow, that’s the natural colour of fat!

The different shades of yellow or slightly green resemble the different grades of olive oil you have purchased. Some are more suitable for things than others.

Note that olive oil is graded against international olive oil council certification criteria. Virgin olive oils are a natural product obtained from olives, produced solely by washing, crushing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering. They have not undergone chemical or heat processing.

Extra virgin olive oil

This is the highest quality olive oil, has the highest level of antioxidants compared to other olive oils. The flavour and of course the colour of the oil depends on the olive variety used. It has free acidity level of less than 1 %. This oil is best used as a salad dressing, marinade or with balsamic vinegar for dipping bread

Virgin olive oil

This has a slightly higher free acidity level 2% than extra virgin. It is a slightly lower grade however still contains a high level of antioxidants. It can be used multi purposefully in the kitchen.

Refined olive oil

This oil has been produced by chemical and physical filters to remove acidity. It’s clear and tasteless.

Olive oil or pure olive oil

This is the most common one found in the supermarket it’s a 90% refined and 10% virgin olive oil blend. The fats are still mono unsaturated and it has not been chemically processed, however the anti oxidant levels are low. Within this category is the ‘light’ or ‘extra light’, which refers to the taste of the oil only. Meaning it is light in flavour. This is best used for baking.

As you can see there is a huge difference between refined and extra virgin olive oil, which does change the flavour enormously.  However the macronutrient content of the fat remains the same, all are mono unsaturated fats the only difference is the amount of antioxidants.

Gentler extraction processes help retain the good antioxidants, the same chemicals found in veggies and fruit. One comparison study showed that compared to extra virgin olive oil, refined olive oil had 20% less squalene, 75% less total phenols, almost 90% fewer simple phenols and almost 80% fewer lignans. All of these compounds are thought to be beneficial to health. It is possible that high levels of squalene from olive oil in the Mediterranean diet are a protective factor in reducing skin cancer incidence. 

It does make a difference in the olive oil you choose, especially if you are after the antioxidant health benefits of olive oil. The antioxidant phenols coupled with the mono unsaturated fats is what make olive oil so beneficial to health. Taking out the antioxidants takes away some of the benefits.  The benefits to health can be viewed in the following study examples:

It has also been shown to improve heart disease through lowering LDL cholesterol raise HDL good cholesterol, which unlike coconut oil, is functional and does vasodilate arteries.

And heating olive oil for example deep-frying doesn’t seem to change this fact either according to this.

The biggest argument against the use of olive oil is with cooking. Most people believe that it’s not good to cook with due to its fat instability and lower smoking point temperatures. I’m going to use basic high school math’s to debunk this urban legend.

Below is a table of oils and their relative smoking points

Cooking oils
Smoking point
Omega6 : 3 ratio
Extra virgin olive oil
73% mono unsat fat, high in omega-9
Higher quality (low acidity) extra virgin olive oil
13:1, 74% mono (71.3% omega-9)
Extra virgin Coconut oil
85% lauric acid, 66% medium chain triglycerdies
Extra light olive oil
74% monounsaturated, high in omega 9
Flaxseed oil
Peanut oil
9:1 saturated and mono unsaturated
Canola oil
Rice bran oil

As you can see both extra virgin coconut oil has a lower smoking temperature and also has unstable properties in their fatty acid chain. Making it more likely to produce harmful free radicals at smoking point at around 177 degrees. But lets take a step back…

What temperatures do you actually reach cooking food in a normal home kitchen? 

Cooking method
Frying steak temp on inside
Rare 63, medium 71, well-done 77
Roasting veggies
Baking cakes
Deep frying potato’s

By just doing the math’s if your quickly frying something you probably won’t reach smoking point ever. Remember degrading fat so it changes to free radicals is also time dependent. Frying a steak for 10-15min is not long enough to change it’s chemical fat composition.  Personally I have never fried anything long enough to make any oil smoke… have you?

Now lets talk about the baking option at 180 degrees, higher quality (low acidity) extra virgin olive oil, light olive oil or rice bran oil, has a higher smoking point than coconut oil, so using the same argument wouldn’t you want to use those instead?

Olive oil and rice bran oil regardless being refined are an unsaturated fats that has been proven to be beneficial to health. Unlike coconut oil which, the jury is still out.  The benefit of that type of saturated fat and health is yet to be proven. Going with something you KNOW works… or go with something you HOPE works?  … hmm not a tough question for me.

Health or Hype?

In summary I think its more hype than anything. The benefits have not been proven and with the little research we have I think if anything the benefits would be minor in terms of body fat, if not neutral to health.

Is it worth switching olive oil to coconut oil? My answer is simply no.

Why would you risk the use of something that’s unknown and potentially harmful when you have perfectly good oil that has been well researched and not linked to health harm at all?

What do I use?

Extra virgin olive oil in all my cooking: frying, baking and salad dressings. I don’t pour it into milk shakes or deep fry with it because I try to maintain my current body weight. I don’t understand why would you add extra fat to food unless you wanted to gain weight? Fat regardless of where it comes from coconut or olives still contains energy. Unless your running marathons or have a super fast metabolic rate you would be hard pressed to burn it all off.

I don’t hate coconut oil, I believe it has its place in the food chain amongst other things.  If you want to use it go right ahead. Having a little bit of coconut oil isn’t going to make you keel over with a heart attack or anything like that. However like everything that’s high in energy, moderate it or else you will gain weight and currently we don’t know what the side effects may be- if any?

So my question to you is who would you rather listen to?

A health professional who understands how scientific papers and health messages are decided on.  OR an over zealous non nutrition, non science background person giving you health messages who tend to move with the latest trend?

What people don’t understand is that as a dietitian we see the worst of the worst-case scenarios every day. People with their second heart bypass, multiple heart stents, multiple cancers, obesity, diabetes, eating disorders – everything you name it, we have seen it.

I can make some one lose weight, improve their health conditions without coconut oil, I do this currently everyday. Yes this includes heart disease, diabetes and obesity, I have NEVER used coconut oil with any of my clients and they get great results.

Professionally I think its irresponsible to jump on the bandwagon of coconut oil at the moment because the literature is not 100% convincing. Seeming as the risk to these peoples lives are so high I don’t think it’s worth it.

As for all those health claims, well marketers though out history have been really good at lying to us. But the choice is yours, not mine and you have a lot to think about!

** Click on study titles or quotes to be linked to actual document**

Monday, July 21, 2014

How To Fuel Your Running

Hi peeps!

Here is my latest article published in Ultra Fitness magazine on how to fuel your running. Hope you like it enough to share it with fellow runners!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sphinx Trail Run

This weekend I joined my friend David on a trail run, which was a great cardio workout for the enthusiastic type!

It started off a little chilli and I thought we may have been rained out, but the weather held up quite well for the 3hrs we were in the bush. This track starts 6km from the pacific HWY along Bobbin Head rd walk along the bitumen down the steps to the Sphinx memorial.

The track is one person wide so don’t expected to be talking much, especially if you’re running. There are lots of rocks, steps and reeds to keep you guessing along the way. Run swiftly but lightly and keep your eyes on the ground!

The terrain is very lovely. The trail passes through luscious rainforest type environments, to dry barren grass patches. In places the bush reeds reach head height, low lying vines and branches also pop out of no where if your not paying attention.

The half waypoint is roughly Apple Tree Bay, where you can see boats and people fishing along the river back. In fact I’ve taken my dad fishing here on fathers day once in a small tin boat. It was quaint but we caught a weird looking fish we threw back.

For the remaining 8km we continued on track to follow the riverbank to finish with the most challenging part of it all zigzagging the mountaintop to reach Berowra train station where David had arranged his car to be conveniently parked near by. 

 What a relief! The thought of walking any further was killing me. Feet ached the body was cold, but it was worth it.  All up it was 15km in which we both ran and walked, plenty of hills and rocks to climb over to keep the heart rate up.  This is defiantly a worthwhile challenge workout for the running enthusiast.  Enjoy!